The cyclical nature of revolution songs is undeniable. Take a song from 100 years ago and it will be, at least in part, relevant today. Take, for example, the songs of Irish revolutionary James Connolly.
Mat Callahan, who fronted the San Francisco political punk/worldbeat band the Looters in the 80s, has compiled a book of Connolly’s music from original publications long thought lost to history. The book is put together well, with just enough history to give a sense of Connolly’s importance but relying mostly on the man’s own words from his music, all of which was written over 100 years ago. Connolly, a leading Marxist theorist in his day and was executed by the British in 1916.
Callahan and his wife Yvonne Moore, who now call Switzerland home, performed about a dozen songs on acoustic guitar and vocals at the Arlene Francis Center Friday night. The performance was the most punk rock thing I’ve seen all year, and will hold that title for at least a while. The duo sent a frozen shiver down my spine with lines like, “The people’s flag is deepest red, it shrouded oft our martyred dead; and ere their limbs grew stiff and cold, their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold.”
Santa Rosan Robert Ethington opened the show with original songs on acoustic guitar, accompanied by his wife Amy on vocals. They played a handful of powerful songs, suggesting they’d be a treat to see as a headlining act.
The album, “Songs of Freedom,” includes fully orchestrated versions of the songs Callahan and Moore played Friday night. It’s got Callahan’s worldbeat sensibility and arrangement, with guitar, bass, drums, Irish whistles, pipes, vocal harmony, fiddle, accordion and harp. The production is excellent, and the arrangements are updated to modern sensibility without losing their original feeling. Some tunes to Connolly’s songs were lost, so Callahan wrote original music to his lyrics. It serves to note that Connolly’s main purpose of putting these revolutionary words to music was for people to sing them and remember them, so many of the tunes are actually traditional country songs or somewhat hokey, simple melodies. They sound best when sung with 100 of your closest, most fed-up-with-the-system friends.
Get the book and CD here. It’s perfect for fans of history, revolution and Mat Callahan, each of which is equally important.
Treasure Island Music Festival is more than just music, it’s an experience. The festival is so well produced that it wouldn’t be difficult to have a good time having never heard of any of the bands playing. The seventh incarnation of the two-day festival wrapped up yesterday, and it was another beaming success. In addition to music, there is a shopping area, arts and crafts tent, zine and comic library, silent disco (live DJ spinning for wireless headphone-wearing listeners), food trucks, a Ferris wheel, bubbles and the best people watching money can buy. Wow, that last part sounded creepy, but you get the idea.
But there’s also music—lots of it. Each stage is timed down to the minute, so there is never a dull moment. There’s also never a moment to let the ears relax, and the only booth with earplugs was selling them for a buck a pair. Note for next year, guys: GIVE AWAY FREE EARPLUGS.
I’ve listed some favorites and least favorites, not based on the quality of their set (I’m sure there are fans of the bands who might think it was the band’s best performance ever), but on entertainment quality from an outside perspective. I must stress that even what I found to be the most banal of musical performances still turned out to be quite entertaining.
Little Dragon: 3.5/5 Good stage presence and real instruments made this a highlight on a day of laptop-driven DJ tunes and pumping bass. Singer Yukimi Nagano flows musically and visually as the leader of this electronic music group. They split the difference with a live drummer playing an electronic drum kit.Danny Brown: 3.5/5 Once the sound engineer figured out how to properly mix rap vocals (it took a couple songs), Danny Brown’s nasally, violent delivery emerged and piqued the ears of festivalgoers that might not have come specifically to see the last-minute replacement for Tricky. The early performance was a good boost of live human energy to contrast the repetitive bass and synthesizer drum sounds the rest of the day had in store.
Saturday’s Least Favorites
Disclosure: 2/5 In haiku: such low energy / could not keep my eyes open / what was that you said?
STRFKR: 4.5/5 Not surprised that this electro-indie group was top notch, but surprised at how well their albums translated to live performance. They know their music is, at times, slow to develop. But they spruce up the show with visuals, like two dudes in padded sumo suits going at it for a couple tunes. They even played along with the bits, and it didn’t sacrifice the quality of the music.
James Blake: 4/5 Great soundtrack for the day shifting gears into cold night. Focused songs had energy in their own way, giving a nice break from nonstop dancing. Blake is an excellent performer whose passion is evident when he plays. His songs feature piano and good songwriting, a timeless, classic combination.Haim: 4/5 Wow. These girls rocked harder than anyone at the festival. The three sisters and their male drummer had a sound reminiscent of Prince, during his more rocking moments, and even captured some funk to go with it. Their “girl power” shtick was a little heavy at times, like when they spoke at length how they now know what Beyonce feels like when the wind blows hair into their mouths, and when they squealed with delight when handed candy from the crowd. But I’m not a young girl, so maybe it was indeed the perfect concert set for their target audience. Either way, it was impressive.
Sunday’s least favorites:
Animal Collective: 1.5/5 Sometimes art is so conceptual that it goes over my head. I was hoping this was the case with Animal Collective, and at one point I actually asked a friend if they knew what the point was supposed to be. Nobody knew. I’m not sure Animal Collective knew. A very cool stage set (inflatable teeth with individual projections made the stage look like a gigantic open mouth) and light show helped slightly, but the music was so repetitive and the melodies so simply and leading nowhere that I left to watch football about two-thirds of the way through. I still heard the music (it was impossible not to from anywhere on the island, really), and still was not impressed.
She started as a wave, rolling in from far out in the ocean. She built up steam and, halfway through the show, her jokes began to land with explosions of laughter. Anjelah Johnson is more than a one-joke pony–this California comedian’s built to last.
Slipping seamlessly between “normal” and her lovable ghetto gurrrl voiced-characters, Johnson was a quick study for the audience at Napa’s Uptown Theater last night. Some hilarious jokes were performed so quick and nonchalantly that the audience, largely unfamiliar with much of the culture she was referencing, probably would have laughed even harder had they grown up in a more diverse area. Her opening joke nailed this sentiment. “I’ve never been to Napa before,” says the Mexican comedian who grew up in San Jose before moving to Los Angeles. “I thought it would be more…” and she made a snooty duck face. You know, the ones on every teenager’s Facebook page, but influenced by a glass of wine and a sense of entitlement. Before anyone starts up the hate train, I stress that she said it wasn’t like that. Unbundle your undies, already.
I’m going to sandwich a bit about Kabir Singh’s set in the middle because I don’t want anyone to miss it. This Indian comedian opened the night with hillarious riffs on Indian culture, among other topics. He’s very loud and energetic and it’s tough not to like him. Besides that, his jokes are great. One of my favorites was Indians bargaining: “Even an Indian getting mugged would bargain. ‘I’m gonna shoot you!’ ‘Ok, buddy, how about you just stab me and we call it a day, huh?’”
Johnson recently married a Christian rapper, who was on hand to pose for pictures with everyone leaving the theater. If you search Instagram, just type “Anjelah Johnson’s hudband”–this will yield more results than his name, surely, which I still don’t know. Even though she once had a whole joke about the oxymoronic music genre that is Christian rap, Johnson (and her huge, sparkly diamond ring) seems quite happy with the turn of events. Her jokes about moving in and starting a life together were not as brutal as they could have been. Maybe her biggest peeve was her husband’s use, once, of her toothbrush. “I never even thought of that as an option,” she says.
Johnson mostly went with new material, but a few Raiderettes in the crowd, waving pom poms after the best jokes, caught her attention. She busted out some moves (she was a Raiders cheerleader in 2003 when the team went to the Super Bowl), and even made a Raiders joke (the punchline was, essentially, the Raiders). The Raiders fan in the front row could not argue, and even took off his hat in a moment of shame.
She saved her “hits” for the end, busting out the characters of Bon Qui Qui and the Nail Salon Lady while showing T-Shirts and even a 3-song rap CD featuring the characters. She rapped along with some of it over the sound system and said the idea was picked up by Atlantic Records and to expect a full-length effort soon. With all her skills (she’s a talented dancer, singer and rapper in addition to being ridiculously funny), it’s a wonder she hasn’t landed more movie roles or her own TV show (though she does a significant amount of voice acting). If this album news is true, it could be the crossover hit that cements her career. Hey, good music is good, and good music that’s funny is often even more entertaining.
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Last night’s show at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa was a revelation. I thought punk was dead; turns out it’s alive, but it lives in Oakland and Mexico City.
On the hottest day of the year (103 degrees, for fuck’s sake), a bunch of punk bands and fans crowded into the even hotter Arlene Francis Center to “dance” to fast, loud rock and roll music. Dancing, of course, is subjective. Nobody complained about the heat, but shirts were removed (and, at times, pants). Some bands didn’t show up, some unscheduled bands did, almost everyone shared the same drum set all night (which, since I was running sound, I was fully on board with). Turns out most of the bands were from Oakland, and two were from Mexico City. So that’s where all the rock and roll was hiding.
Burger Records’ Pookie and the Poodlez started off in the café, with the underwear-clad front man screeching into a yellow telephone receiver living a second life as a microphone. This is the ‘60s, semi-surf punk craze all the kids are into now, with the grit and simplicity of the Ramones combined with the poppy harmonies of the Monkees. That front man was in four bands of the evening, including Elvis Christ, Cumstain and Primitive Hearts, covering vocals, guitar and drumming duties.
In Cumstain, the singer and drummer donned stockings over their heads, as if they were about to burglarize the crowd. The only thing they stole, however, was the show, as the crowd threw possibly half-full cans of Pabst at the stage in appreciation. Crazy antics and wearing a stocking on your head in 100-degree heat playing fast punk rock under stage lights for half an hour will do that.
And now for something completely different, in every sense of the word. We Are the Men took the stage next. This super-talented group of Bay Area natives played unclassifiable rock, possibly in the vein of Dillinger Escape Plan or Triclops, but with a hearty helping of what-the-fuck-is-this-music on the side. Lots of screaming, lots of dynamic and style changes mid-song, lots of catchy-as-fuck hooks that disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they appeared. I liked them, I think. Judging by faces in the crowd, it seems like many had a similar opinion. I think.
Elvis Christ was led by a standup comedian in training, who yakked about half the time, and took a Pabst to the nuts for his troubles. All in good fun, because he was actually somewhat amusing, and the doo-wop punk rock was delightful.
Los Headaches, from Mexico City, came on at midnight after waiting the whole day for their 15 minutes, literally, of “fame.” Even at this late hour, there were a few stragglers still watching and dancing. The next band, which featured the same members plus one crazy ass motherfucker of a singer, played for 20 minutes immediately after.
I didn’t catch their name, they weren’t on the official flyer It’s Los Vincent Black Shadows – Thanks Sam). Holy shit. At 12:15am, this band pulled in a larger crowd just two songs into their set. The energy gave the crowd a second wind and stage diving, knocking over of instruments, heavy moshing (not that circle pit bullshit) took place. Their songs were in English (as far as I could tell, at least–he was yelling most of the time, sometimes with a microphone literally in his mouth), but it didn’t matter because punk rock transcends language. During one song, the singer repeatedly bashed his guitar, neck down, into the ground, then threw it across the stage and ran after it, like it had just stolen his wallet, and stomped on it to teach it a lesson. The guitar did not break.
Santa Rosa’s music scene is vastly differently from other parts of the Bay Area, as evidenced by this show comprised of bands from outside the area. Kudos to Jake Ward for organizing the show, which also had a barbecue and awesome looking stage. Here’s to more traveling bands coming to one of the few venues in greater Sonoma County supporting music as more than just a moneymaker.
“Wow, this sounds a lot like Black Sabbath” was the first thought that popped into my head last night at the Fuzz show in San Francisco. “These long haired dudes kinda look like Black Sabbath, too,” I thought. “But that drummer isn’t hiding behind two bass drums and only has two cymbals. And there’s no singer. This is really, really great! I never liked Ozzy’s voice, and these guys sound like a way bigger band than just a three-piece.” But all these great conversation starters were wasted on my own mind, however, because Ty Segall’s latest musical venture was so damn loud nobody in the Knockout would have heard a stampede of elephants running down Mission Street.
Despite what it sounded like, there was only one guitarist, Charles Moothart. Segall is really the one known for cranking out the rockingest rock with his incredible his guitar tones, but here he’s on drums. More on that later. Moothart’s appropriately fuzzy guitar was fat, so fat, in fact, that it shook my ribcage. Maybe it was a warning, like by body was saying, This Is Almost Too Much Rock, Be Careful. His solos were tasty, like hot jam dripping off a shortbread biscuit tasty. And then there was the hair–so much hair, it was everywhere.
Now Segall, who is a guitarist in something like three other bands, might be on the hook for battery if those drums decide to press charges. He beat them like they owed him money, like they insulted his mother, like they keyed his 1967 Mustang. His ferocity did not dimish the speed of the band’s last song, which kept a blistering pace for four times longer than most punk songs. Not only this, but he sang for some of the songs, most of which were new and will probably have lyrics soon.
The crowd at this Noisepop show may have been a little too hip for its own good. The feeling on the tiny dance floor was that familiar precipice of moshing, where either age, vanity or self consciousness kept people from truly smashing into each other like idiots. Instead, a couple of buzzed dudes in gingham shirts sort of pushed each other around a little, eliciting nervous smiles from the wary crowd around them. In a different setting, this would be the ultimate circle pit band.
Co-headling was OGB III, who took the stage after Fuzz. This band was delicious, filled with ooey-gooey cheese and mushy, fatty pork. Slathered in curtido and spicy salsa, they were too hot at first, but soon went down smooth with a cold Mexican beer. No, wait, that was the pupusas at Los Panchos. No offense to OGB III, but nothing was going to top what we had just seen and heard, and we wanted to leave on the highest note possible.
On a side note, local group Blasted Canyons opened, and were pissed off the whole time about, among other things, their monitor mix. Their playing reflected this attitude it in a bad way. But on the plus side, they did have an Oberheim synthesizer, which is high on the list of things that make really cool sounds. The Knockout is a great bar, with plenty of character and a decent dance floor and stage. It’s too loud and really small, which usually makes every show better. This night was no exception.
At the start of her packed show Thursday night in San Francisco, Jessie Ware’s token platitudes for the city of San Francisco started out as just that—expected banter from a touring musician, repeated hundreds of times over. By the end of the show, though, after constant affection showered upon the breakout UK star from an adoring crowd, her city-crush on San Francisco rose to fever pitch. Then, when someone handed her a bouquet of roses, Ware completely lost it.
“Oh my Gooooooodddddd!!” she wailed, in thick British accent. “This really is our favorite city!”
Ware’s full-length album Devotion still hasn’t been officially been released in the United States, whatever that means in the year 2013; everyone at the Rickshaw Stop seemed to know nearly every song. Opening with the title track, Ware and her rock-solid band emitted a slow pulse, built it to a climax and, as Ware sang loudly away from the mic, pushed the song into transcendence. It was a formula that would be repeated throughout the night, but never felt, well, formulaic.
The year is 2043, America has split into two countries, Chinese is the most-spoken language on the planet and music is made almost entirely on computers. A grizzled old man sits next to the holographic Yule log fireplace steaming from Netflix 3D and beckons the children from their video game contact lenses to listen to his story.
Gather round here, kids, I have a story for you. It takes place in a time before holograms were commonplace, when we had to use our own hands and feet to drive our cars, when there only one United States of America and one man sought to bring us together before this country was torn apart. That man’s name was Snoop Dogg.
Now, this man was a musician, and of course his real name wasn’t Snoop. He wasn’t really a dog, either. He had a simple message: smoke as much weed as you possibly can and have a good time. He spoke through the language of hip-hop, and his quest began 60 years ago when he made an album–that’s uh, it’s like a whole bunch of songs in one, uh, CD, which is like a disc with music, oh never mind–called Doggystyle, which was a pun on his name by referencing, well, you’ll find that out later when you grow up. But the point is it was clever. He used clever rhymes and catchy beats and hooks to become a superstar in the music world, and his primary message later in his career became about smoking weed and having a good time, back when it was illegal.
I used to sell meat. My favorite part of the day was sampling out bacon. Our bacon was real, thick-cut, how-it-should-be bacon, which many members of the public had never experienced. Their reaction always began at the eyes, then traveled up to the brow before sinking into the rest of the face and, sometimes, weakening the knees. It was something they were familiar with, but just didn’t know what it was really like, or how good it could be.
After seeing Alison Krauss with Union Station, featuring Jerry Douglas, last night at the Green Music Center, I now know that feeling from the other side of the counter.
It was maybe halfway through the concert that everything came together in a rush of emotion, and Krauss’ emotional songs might have played a factor, but I was holding back tears when the realization hit me. Nothing will ever sound better than inside this hall. This is quite possibly the best-sounding band, the most professional engineers, in the most gorgeous acoustic space I will ever experience. This is the French Laundry of concert spaces.
This was the first non-classical concert in Weill Hall, the five-carat diamond amongst the surrounding gems of the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University. In addition to Krauss and Union Station wrapping up the festivities, this opening weekend included a gala opening concert with pianist Lang Lang, a sunrise choral concert with original music composed for and dedicated to those involved with the creation of the center, and an afternoon performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony, which has the privilege of calling the hall its home.
In comparison to the previous evening, which was full of tuxedos, Versace gowns, politicians and formal stuffiness, this was a decidedly blue-jeans event. There were even people dancing on the lawn, the mood was so jovial. The weather was perfect, absolutely perfect, and I can’t help but see exactly what drove SSU President Ruben Armiñana to create this indoor-outdoor concert space. In fact, though my seat was inside the hall, I strode outside in the second half to see what it was like, and honestly I preferred sitting on the lawn. Of course, weather permitting and musical style taken into account, it wasn’t inconceivable that the best seats in the house were, in fact, not in the house at all.
The two large LED screens flanking the opening to the concert hall were a little too bright, but what they showed was beautiful. Close-ups of the band, their expressive faces, their lightning-fast picking all dissolved with slow fades. Combined with the excellent, natural sound coming from both the hall itself and reinforced with high-hanging speakers and downfiring subwoofers (18 of them), this was the best outdoor sound I have ever heard. I had a tough time hearing some of the stories and witty banter between songs, but I suspect that had more to do with the storytellers turning away from the microphone for a moment. Can’t amplify sound that’s not there!
The band played together for about an hour before Jerry Douglas gave a solo performance on Dobro guitar, which blew me away from my 10th-row seat. Even with a stack of speakers in front of me, the sound was natural, even, pleasing and rich. Not once did this sound engineer turn to look back in the direction of the mixing board to suggest something unpleasant was happening. In fact, I would like to give a written high-five to the engineer for the evening. You did the hall justice. You got on that balance between acoustic and amplified and walked the tightrope all night long. And when the band came back for an encore set, using only one microphone, they were right there, too, blending themselves using distance and dynamics between voices and instruments.
Douglas announced this was the last stop of their two-year (!) tour. They were so musically tight and having so much fun, it seemed like they felt at home. At one point, Krauss turned to the balcony crowd behind her and waved, turning back to the microphone to say, as understated as her music, “This like no other place I’ve ever seen.”
More photos below.
Seemingly correlated, it twists the mind around trying to decipher the meaning. On the surface, it seems to work. The sound of it is somewhat familiar, yet unusual enough at the same time to remember distinctly. Listen enough and it will create a wonder aural illusion, like a Magic Eye stereogram for the ears. “Oh, it’s a sailboat!” This successfully describes both the term Heatwarmer and the sound of the Seattle-based jazz fusion band.
Led by vocalist and electric bass player Luke Bergman, the group also features a drummer, guitarist and not one, but two synthesizeristas, one who also plays the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and one who can flip his hair and make it look perfect. Every. Single. Time. The songs are eclectic but very listenable, like a blend of Frank Zappa and Stevie Wonder. Well, not exactly, but sorta. Ya know?
No, you can’t know unless you listen to them. I’ll save the clever adjectives and music critic comparisons for something describable. For now, just enjoy:
Their new album is reportedly finished, awaiting the “final touches” as Bergman put it. They played only one song off their first album last night, “Weird Shower.” You know when a band plays there new stuff, and nobody is really into it because they just want to hear the songs they know and love already, even if the new stuff is even better? This did not happen to Heatwarmer. Jaws dropped, cheers were hollered and people danced. “What am I even seeing right now!?” was uttered more than once.
A review of a 2009 performance by Heatwarmer concluded with Gabe Meline waiting for the initial weirdness to settle down to determine if this was “good” or “bad,” and he rightfully concludes that if there’s even a moment of confusion to determine something that simple then it’s automatically in the “good” category.
When you’ve been in the game for as long as DJ Krush, you can do the unthinkable. Book a “20 Year Anniversary” tour and play a three-hour set? Sure. Why not?
On Saturday night the tour hit the Mezzanine—a rare opportunity to catch Krush, a living hip-hop legend, in one of his stateside appearances. But while many predicted that the 49 year-old Japanese producer would use the “20th Anniversary” tag to revisit his classic mid-’90s MoWax material, Krush is nothing if not unpredictable.
He played dubstep.
Not right out of the gate, mind you, and not for the whole set, but dubstep nonetheless. And while some of the crowd surely recoiled at the what’s-becoming-inescapable wompwompwompwomp, most of the crowd loved it. Krush seemed to love it. How can you fault a guy for evolving and adapting with the times?
Here’s something else: DJ Krush is damn good at playing dubstep. Probably because he’s been residing down around the same BPM for most of his career anyway, Krush’s command of the genre came off as entirely natural, and—this is important—utterly creative and not reliant on novelty. Say what you will about dubstep’s disposable nature, but it seemed to inspire the most inventive sound manipulations of the entire three-hour set.
The other thing: Krush attracts a varied crowd, because after 25 years he’s been through so many eras. You get the beathead hip-hop fans in hoodies and nodding heads from Meiso‘s Black Thought and C.L. Smooth collaborations; you get the Burning Man twirling girls from Zen‘s singles with Zap Mama and N’Dea Davenport, and you get new fans rolling in who need their guts rumbled by, well, dubstep.
At the two-hour mark, Krush still hadn’t delved deep into his MoWax days—”Only the Strong Survive,” at least, would have been a nice touch. But he’d still traveled some very mindblowing territory on his 15 year-old Vestax mixer, with wood flutes, electric guitars, the “Armagideon Time” bassline, a Bach organ, the “Paid in Full” beat,” Japanese rap and Rusty Bryant’s “Fire Eater” (greatest drum break in the world, maybe?) in the mix. All tinged with that elusive DJ Krush touch. It was danceable, thought-provoking and utterly addictive—one of the best sets I’ve witnessed.
The Mezzanine got that 1am vibe. A guy in a Gordo Taqueria T-shirt started punching himself in the face to each snare hit. A semicircle of friends chanted on a bald guy downing a Bloody Mary. A girl thrust her hand down another girl’s vest. People making out all over. Krush took the hint, chilled things out, and played some of his more “vibe” material to send people home.
DJ Krush turns 50 this year, and he’s still amazing. Here’s to longevity.
(Opener’s Note: I walked in and heard what I thought might be the Gaslamp Killer, but was thrilled to see Benji Illgen, a.k.a. Mophono, up on the turntables. Benji’s an old record-obsessive acquaintance from Santa Rosa who’s been in the city for over a decade now, and wouldn’t you know it, he puts out Gaslamp Killer records (and scores Flying Lotus collaborations) on his CB Records label. His set—half Serato, half vinyl—filled the early ’90s gaps that Krush would later leave empty, and it was a treat to see Krush hit the stage and bow in tribute to Benji. A great set. Hope you’re doing well, amigo.)